10 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO INDIA
By Erika Suban
Before you take a trip to India – a trip you will remember vividly for the rest of your life – you will probably read plenty about what you should be mindful of while you’re in the subcontinent. Things like what you should eat, about drinking only bottled water, to bring cash with you, to get a visa, to dress conservatively, to take off yours shoes before entering a temple, and to carry hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
Of course those are all very important points to prepare for the adventure of a lifetime. But here are 10 more for you, that you may not have read about, and can be just as helpful.
#1 – Slow down.
India is unpredictable, so the best way to keep a sane mind in a lot of craziness is to take it easy. Don’t react to anything, at least not for few minutes. Just keep smiling and go on. India has many cultures, many religions, many people, and many ways of doing the same thing. No stereotype can apply to India entirely. Visit with an open mind.
#2 – Forget the stereotypes.
India is home to many people (1.37 billion and growing), and therefore has many ways of doing the same thing. No stereotype can apply to India entirely: where something is true, the opposite will also be true. For instance, did you know that some of the richest people in the world live in India? And that snake charming was banned long time ago? Take it all with an open mind.
#3 – Be confident, and don’t try too hard to be polite.
Being too polite can be seen as a sign of weakness and lead you to some sketchy requests. I know it may seem pretty awful, and I am not saying that you should be rude or yell at people, but just be assertive and act as if you know what you are doing at any time. Even if you don’t.
#4 – Watch a few good movies
Check out some movies about India, like the popular romantic British comedy “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” with Judy Dench and Maggie Smith, or the British drama “Slumdog Millionaire”, directed by Danny Boyle and winner of 8 Academy Awards. The beautiful trilogy of films by Indo-Canadian film director Deepa Mehta (“Fire” “Earth” and “Water”) deals with the issues of social reform, and the documentary “Born into Brothels” by British photographer Zana Brinski is about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta. If you want to see an Indian movie by an Indian director, though, watch ‘Salaam Bombay” by Mira Nair, ”Ship of Theseus” by Anand Gandhi and the Bollywood historical drama “Asoka”.
#5 – Read a couple of books about India.
Some great examples would be the fascinating “India After Gandhi” by Indian historian Ramachandra Guha, the debut novel “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy (and winner of the Booker prize in 1997), the non fiction travel book “Nine Lives: in search of the sacred in modern India” by William Dalrymple, “Around India in 80 Trains” by Monisha Rajesh and the romantic blockbuster “2 States: The Story of My Marriage” by Chetan Bhagat. If you like very long novels (1,349 pages!) you will enjoy “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth.
#6 – Get ready to take the most stunning photographs you have ever taken.
India is so photogenic you will have a hard time putting your camera down. India has it all: people, street, portrait, landscape, architecture, nature, wildlife, lifestyle, fashion, and so much more. Get inspired with some photography books like “India’s Disappearing Railways: A Photographic Journey” by Australian photojournalist Angus McDonald, “Edge of Faith” by Indian photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta, “The Last of the Tattooed Headhunters: The Konyaks” by Indian entrepreneur Phejin Konyak & Dutch photographer Peter Bos, “India” by the world famous American photographer Steve McCurry.
#7 – Listen and learn.
There are 22 official languages and more than 19,500 total languages and tribal dialects in India, but Hindi is the most widely spoken language. Because of their similarities, learning how to speak Hindi will help you to speak Sanskrit, Urdu, Nepalese, Bengali, and Gujarati. Learn a few words. Yes, english is widely spoken in India, so you don’t have to, but at least know that the Hindi word for “hello” is namaste, literally, “I bow to you” .
#8 – Try some Indian food.
Probably the Indian restaurant in your neighborhood won’t have as many options as you will find in India, but it’s a good start. Every region has its own unique cuisine, but at least you will know what is biryani (a mixed rice dish which can include any kind of meat, eggs or vegetables), tandoori (meat cooked in charcoal/clay oven), samosas (fried conical snack made out of dough stuffed with savory filling) and dosa (crisp pancake).
#9 – Listen to some Indian music.
George Harrison of The Beatles was so inspired by inspired by it that he said “Indian music makes God come through in a spiritual way.” Today pop and rap music in India are very popular, and A. R. Rahman has won a long list of awards for his songs and scores, and everybody still knows who Ravi Shankar is. You can’t go wrong with the Sitar maestro.
#10 – Have some faith.
India is home to many religions of different faiths and considered the most religiously diverse nations in the world. Over 80% of India’s population practice Hinduism. Other major religions in India are Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. The religious places in India are not confined to any particular region or state but are spread across the country. Make an effort to learn a little about each religion, you will feel more at home in India (and go back to point 4 and in particular to “Nine Lives” by William Dalrymple).
Even if you take in account just one of these advices, you will have a wonderful time in India. Expect an exceptional level of hospitality: if you plan to stay in 4 or 5 star hotels, you will quickly get used to be treated like royalty.